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  6. News round-up 9 June 2011

News round-up 9 June 2011

Ministers moot new nature designations

The Government’s first White Paper on the natural environment for a decade has proposed the creation of Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) which would transform rural and urban areas by providing bigger and more connected sites for wildlife to live in and adapt to climate change.

The Coalition has pledged to provide £7.5m funding to see 12 NIAs trialled and will consider whether planning or other regulatory support will be needed

The White Paper also commits the administration to work with communities in a number of areas to support “local engagement” in landscape planning.

Also now firmly on the agenda is the concept of ecological offsetting for new development. Later this year, too, ministers will consult on proposals for a new Green Areas Designation. This will give local people an opportunity to protect green spaces that have significant importance to their local communities. Powers to designate such areas are anticipated to be available from April 2012.

In addition ministers are keen to see the development of green infrastructure and urban Quiet Areas.

Read the DEFRA news release.


Welsh planners urged to focus on growth

Welsh planners must do more to support economic growth and jobs, they have been told by Wales minister for environment and sustainable development John Griffiths.

Griffiths was speaking at the annual Wales Planning Conference where he presented a new study on how the planning system could help deliver economic growth.

He said the Welsh Government accepted the report’s recommendations in full and would consult on revised economic development planning policies and a framework economic development Technical Advice Note later this year.

The report highlighted the need for a central economic information resource to inform the evidence base for Local Development Plans (LDPs) and development management decisions.

It also urged closer working between planning and economic development functions at the local level, with economic development teams playing a greater role in LDP preparation and providing advice on planning applications for economic uses.

In addition the report made the case for new strategic planning arrangement at above local planning authority level.

Read the Welsh Government news release.


Waste combustion facility refused

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has refused permission for a waste combustion/energy recovery facility proposed by environmental services firm Veolia for a former colliery site at Rainworth in Nottinghamshire which was backed by the county council.

The Secretary of State's decision was in line with the recommendation of the planning inspector who held a public inquiry into the project last year.

Pickles concluded that the proposal conflicted with both local development plan and national policies. He said the scheme would appear "as an alien feature and intrude on the openness of the countryside". The SoS also noted that the site was due to be restored to woodland and heathland and was not allocated for development.

Read the decision letter and inspector’s report.


Reading s106 income probe

Reading Borough Council has confirmed it has received a detailed independent report on the way the council has managed s106 agreements following allegations that money which should have been use for specific purposes had been diverted to help mitigate the impact of recent funding cuts.

The review was undertaken by Wokingham Business Assurance team and involved a number of different services (legal, financial, planning) and individuals.

In a statement the council explained the findings “were being discussed with leading elected members, to consider the findings, recommendations and actions required, in accordance with usual procedures”.

“It is intended that the matter will be reported to a future meeting of the council’s soon to be established Audit and Governance Committee, where the findings, recommendations and management response will be made public, again in accordance with our usual processes for considering audit reports.”


Courts back NI retail policy

Northern Ireland environment minister Alex Attwood has welcomed a ruling from the Court of Appeal rejecting a legal challenge to his draft policy on retail and town centres.

Attwood has insisted that the outcome of the case would allow a stable retail planning policy regime to be established as well as helping the assessment of major retail proposals like the controversial proposal for a John Lewis store at an out-of-town site at Sprucefield, a planning cause célèbre in the Province.

Attwood said: “This is good news for the future of retailing in Northern Ireland. I welcome the Court of Appeal’s ruling and will now study the implications of it for the future of retail planning policy.” Central Craigavon Ltd had sought a judicial review of the draft policy.

Pickles rejects housing scheme

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has rejected an appeal by the Oxford Diocesan Board of Finance which wanted to locate a residential development of 175 homes plus play space and landscaping at Shinfield, Berkshire. The scheme had been refused by Wokingham Borough Council.

Pickles’ decision letter makes it clear he accepted the recommendations of the planning inspector who held an inquiry into the scheme.

Pickles said the appeal proposal was not in accordance with the development plan and nor did it follow the co-ordinated approach to the development of the borough’s strategic development location master plan.

Read the decision letter and inspector’s report.


Online mapping for flood risk in Wales

An online interactive Development Advice Map (DAM) to enable easier access to flood advice in Wales has been released by the Welsh Government.

These maps, previously only available on request, allow developers and the general public to quickly and easily view those areas within the flood plain and plan appropriately, helping the Welsh Government deliver policy on flood risk in a more flexible and transparent manner.

The maps are used alongside Planning Policy Wales and TAN 15 to direct new development in respect to flood risk. Together, they form a precautionary framework to guide planning decisions. The online functionality will ensure users access the most relevant data and make future updates easier to implement across Wales.

Access the map.


Call to make Plymouth centre a conservation area

English Heritage has called for the whole of Plymouth city centre to become a designated conservation area.

It said Plymouth was "unique" as the only British city to have the whole of its centre completely rebuilt after it was heavily bombed during the Second World War.

The heritage body said the rebuilt city was "as representative of its time as Bath or York". Plymouth has more listed 1950s buildings than anywhere outside London.

Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: "It is a unique place. There was no other English city that was bombed as badly as Plymouth was in the Second World War and what happened afterwards was actually pretty visionary.

"We believe this represents a phase in our national history that should be cherished and looked after.”

Read the English Heritage news release.


Swindon housing scheme sunk

Swindon Borough Council has refused an application by developers Persimmon and Redrow Homes to build nearly 900 houses on land near Coate Water next to a country park in Swindon.


Shale gas inquiry urged

The Government has been urged to hold an investigation into the safety of shale gas extraction over fears that recent earth tremors in Blackpool may have been linked to the activities of energy company Cuadrilla near the resort.

It has suspended hydraulic fracturing, known as ‘fracking’, while experts examine data from two minor earthquakes in the area. Two local MPs have called for an independent assessment.

One of the MPs is Gordon Marsden, the Labour member for Blackpool South. He has written to Energy Secretary Chris Huhne arguing that the Government's chief scientific advisors should look "closely and afresh at the potential issues".

"I'm not making a pre-judgment about the process one way or the other," he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said a geotechnical study was being undertaken, along with further work by the British Geological Survey and Keele University.


House protection

Northern Ireland environment minister Alex Attwood has stepped in to protect an historic country house in Lurgan. He has placed a Building Preservation Notice (BPN) on Demesne House, set within the historic surroundings of the former Brownlow Estate . The property, built in red brick with sandstone detailing in the Arts and Crafts style, dates from the early twentieth century and is currently advertised for sale.

In a separate but related development Attwood has pointed out that Magistrates’ courts can now impose fines of up to £100,000 for certain offences relating to listed buildings or protected trees.

The higher fines are a result of the DOE’s new Planning Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 which includes measures to strengthen enforcement powers.


TCPA chair re-elected

Lee Shostak has been re-elected as the chair of leading planning and housing charity, the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA).

Read the TCPA news release.


Land-banking feels cold wind

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) is continuing its crackdown on land banking and has welcomed two important decisions at the High Court.

In one case the High Court made a winding up order against Plott UK Limited (Plott) and approved the appointment of a liquidator who will now identify, realise, and distribute the company’s assets to its creditors.

In a separate hearing, the High Court continued a world-wide freezing and restraint order against European Property Investments (UK) Limited (EPI). The FSA believes EPI took over Plott’s business once the FSA’s action against Plott began.

Between May 2009 and April 2011 Plott collected approximately £3.9m from UK investors. It had been marketing plots of land as an investment opportunity and operating an unauthorised collective investment scheme (CIS).

Meanwhile, in a separate but related development the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has presented petitions in the High Court to wind up a total of six land banking firms: Stow ford Place Investments Ltd, ASA Global Investments Limited, Prinston Estates Limited, Alpha Capital Investments (London) Limited, Greenacre Global Partners Limited and Vinci Trading Ltd.

Read the Financial Services Authority press release.


Finch deputy chair of merged body

The Design Council has named former Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) chairman Paul Finch as the deputy chair of the organisation following April’s merger of the two bodies.


Business moves

Jones Lang LaSalle has announced that it will merge with international property consultancy King Sturge. All 43 King Sturge offices and businesses across Europe, including 24 in the UK and including its planning consultancy staff will become part of Jones Lang LaSalle and will operate under the Jones Lang LaSalle brand.

In a separate move transport planner Colin Buchanan & Partners has been bought out by Australian consultant Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM). The merged organisation is called SKM Colin Buchanan.


Welsh LDP makes progress

Denbighshire's Local Development Plan (LDP) has passed a key milestone after councillors voted to approve the document and formally submit it for consideration by the Welsh Government and the Planning Inspectorate.
The proposals include plans for 7,500 new properties across the county and designates 50 hectares of land at Bodelwyddan as a Key Strategic Site for mixed use development.


Broadgate listing recommendation

English Heritage (EH) has confirmed it is recommending the 1980s Broadgate Square campus in the City of London for Grade II* listing

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt will now have to decide whether to give statutory protection to Arup Associates’ development, part of which is threatened by the already approved 5 Broadgate scheme for developer British Land who has plans for a 65,000 sq m project including a new headquarters for Swiss bank UBS .


Mapping tool

The Homes and Communities Agency has launched a new mapping tool called SIGnet which combines GIS spatial data from many different sources in a single place.

The tool can help local authorities look at available land compared with planning constraints and infrastructure when planning new development, or map empty homes hotspots compared with statistics on housing need

The agency said the tool should save local authorities money by reducing the need for their own GIS hardware and software and associated training costs

SIGnet includes the Empty Homes Mapping Toolkit launched by the HCA earlier this month and is accessible for free.


Roger Milne

9 June 2011